12:45 Ladbrokes Long Walk Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m 122yds
The staying hurdle division has not been particularly strong in Britain for a while, and the fact that veterans Champ and Paisley Park are still able to dominate the market for this Grade 1 event tells a tale.
Either could win, of course, but both look vulnerable, with Kempton not certain to suit Paisley Park while Champ tends to run best fresh these days. Neither has the relative speed of Goshen and while Gary Moore’s charge does need to prove his stamina for three miles, he’s always struck me as a relentless galloper who may well relish the trip.
The selection was a stayer on the flat as a three-year-old despite being headstrong, and I don’t see why stamina shouldn’t be a strong point over hurdles now that he has learned to race with a bit more restraint.
He absolutely hated being put over fences at Ascot on his return, but was back to close to his best when beating Brewin’upastorm in the Coral Ascot Hurdle, where he outstayed rather than out-sprinted his main rival. A repeat of that may well be good enough here, but there remains the prospect that he will improve again for a proper test of stamina.
13:20 Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m
The rain arrived in earnest at Kempton on Friday, with 18mm changing the ground to soft, and that would make me wary of backing McFabulous here, for all I’m a fan of Paul Nicholls’s novice.
He’s been impressive in two wins since pulled up on his chase debut (leading at time, but jockey thought he’d lost his action), jumping much better than Thyme Hill at Newbury, but I’ve no doubt he’s a better horse on a sound surface, and very soft ground would put me off.
If more rain arrives as forecast, then Dan Skelton’s Galia Des Liteaux could take advantage; she also appears to be ground dependent, and would need it pretty deep to be seen to best effect. She’s unproven over 3m, but was far from disgraced over slightly shorter at Perth in the spring, and is one to view positively when conditions are in her favour.
13:55 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m
You don’t turn on Escape To Victory to have a punt on Michael Caine’s Allies to beat Germany (just as well because – spoiler alert – it was a draw), and you don’t need to have a bet on or against Constitution Hill in the Christmas Hurdle.
Sometimes these things are about the pure entertainment value, and my advice to even the most rabid punter is to sit back and enjoy the best hurdler in training do his stuff. He will be almost unbackable anyway, so you don’t want to ruin Christmas by backing him to win by eight lengths or more only to see Nico gearing down after the last. It may be tempting, but just don’t do it!
14:30 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (Grade 1) 3m
I’ve largely built Christmas 2022 around Royale Pagaille (some would say it’s all about the children, but that’s up for debate), and he is still too big in the betting from an each-way perspective despite this race failing to cut up as expected.
It’s a surprise to see Ahoy Senor declared with connections having a last-minute change of heart about running here, but at least nine runners means we have three placed to aim for on the day, and the Venetia Williams second-string will have this run to suit with three front runners all likely to compromise each other to some degree.
L’Homme Presse deserves to be favourite, although he didn’t need to improve much on his best novice form to win the Rehearsal Chase on his return, and having Frodon and Ahoy Senor for company makes it harder for him, for all he may not need to lead to win. Royale Pagaille will be ridden fairly cold by Tom Scudamore, who has won on him before, and it’s a bonus that he’s a course and distance winner, for all his success came in a handicap a couple of years back.
He was mightily impressive that day, of course, and this track clearly suits him, so he just needs to run to form to be right in the mix at the line.
Of the others, Bravemansgame is overrated on a fairly routine win in the Charlie Hall (hardly his fault, but the praise he got for beating Eldorado Allen all out was excessive), while Envoi Allen’s win at Down Royal is of dubious merit given the poor time against slower rivals. The jury is out as to whether this trip is the making of him, and I’m far from convinced, and his stamina will be tested more fully here. Frodon’s win in the Badger Beer came from a much-reduced handicap mark and the signs are that he’s essentially regressive.
All in all, this race may not add up to the sum of its parts, and Royale Pagaille appeals as having plenty in his favour, at least in terms of placing, while a win would make the New Year as well chez Delargy. Just don’t tell the wife.
13:35 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase (Premier Handicap) 3m 45yds
The defection of Ahoy Senor might have been seen as a blow for the Rowland Meyrick, but the opposite is the case with the race having great depth and it’s certainly a better handicap than Kempton can muster up over the holidays.
There are plenty I want to have on side here in similar events, but it’s very hard to get away from Shan Blue from a handicapping perspective. He would have won the Charlie Hall by a wide margin last season but for falling in the straight when well clear, and that fall left him with injuries which kept him off until running in the Ryanair. He fared much better when second to Sam Brown at Aintree, and can race off the same mark here.
I think he’s better than he could show last spring and that his backed up by his form in novice company when his best efforts came before the turn of the year.
Shan Blue may well be one to a little wary of in open company given he doesn’t always find as much of the bridle as he promises to, but he’s receiving weight from his main rivals here, and his record at this time of year makes him look a snip, even at around 9/4.
14:50 Coral Welsh Grand National (Premier Handicap) 3m 6f 130yds
The ground is likely to be a lot less testing than what would be the norm for the Welsh Grand National, and that may count against my initial fancies, Lord du Mesnil and The Galloping Bear, although the latter has form on better ground, and may just need a thorough test of stamina to bring out the best in him.
Ben Clarke’s charge is certainly well treated as he can race off the same mark as when beating the mighty Bristol De Mai in Haydock’s Grand National Trial, from which he was subsequently disqualified. He would have been an automatic bet in the mud, but is too well handicapped to pass even on a faster surface.
At a bigger price, Cyclop should outrun his odds if able to go the early gallop. He is a thorough stayer who has been placed in the Southern National and the Highland National on his last two starts. The 11-year-old is fully exposed and usually races in weaker company, but he handles good ground and if able to get into a rhythm in touch with the leaders as is his usual style, will keep plugging away.
With extra places on offer, he’s well worth considering. It’s encouraging that he runs here instead of an easier opening in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen.
Goshen 12:45 Kempton – 2pts win @ 5/1 (SkyBet, Coral – 9/2 general)
Royale Pagaille 2:30 Kempton – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 (general)
Shan Blue 1:35 Wetherby – 2pts win @ 5/2 (SkyBet – 9/4 general)